Can cell phones bring down Gadhafi?

The Takeaway

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

If the United States wants to get Moammar Gadhafi out of power in Libya, communication, rather that military tools, might be more effective. Matt Armstrong, lecturer on public diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School of Communication, told PRI’s The Takeaway: “Ideally what you’ll do is empower the Libyans themselves to communicate so that they have freedom of information.”

Some 93 out of every 100 Libyans have cell phones, according to data cited by Armstrong. Few had internet access, though many used cafes. “If you deliver cell phones,” Armstrong says, “perhaps provide perhaps additional cell phone towers that had their own pathways out of the country, you would certainly have additional access.” And that could help bring down the Gadhafi regime.

The communication strategy should focus on “empowering the Libyans,” Armstrong says, “rather than some outside force — the United States, the West what have you.” The idea is to give people “freedom of information, empowering the people so that they can acquire and disseminate accurate information, freedom of speech, ability to organize.” That could help build the elements of civic society that are needed after the protests are over.

There’s a precedent to helping the opposition in Libya with communication devices. Armstrong points to The Voice Act, passed by Congress last year. The act dedicated $55 million dollars to helping Iranians disseminate accurate information, and could be used to help Libyans do the same.

Secretary of State Clinton has made speeches endorsing internet freedoms and the freedom of information worldwide. Armstrong says it’s clear, ” Freedom of information to access and disseminate… is certainly going to be and will be and has been the foundation of any free society.”


The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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